Louisville's 2014 Draft Success a Reminder Charlie Strong Will Be Fine at Texas

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2014

FILE - In tihs Dec. 5, 2013, file photo, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong watches from the sidelines in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati in Cincinnati. New Texas football coach Strong says he is excited to lead one of the premier programs in the country, calling the Longhorns job a dream. In a statement released by the school formally announcing the hire Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, Strong called Texas a special program because of its history, tradition and pride. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)
Al Behrman/Associated Press

Charlie Strong became the head coach at Louisville in December 2009, making the class of 2010 his first half-class at the school. One of the first players he landed was a largely unknown defensive end/quarterback from Columbus, Georgia, the No. 1,146 overall recruit on the 247Sports Composite.

That defensive end—now a hybrid linebacker—was Marcus Smith, who was the AAC's top defender in 2013 and was drafted Thursday night by the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 26 pick in the NFL draft.

This is what Strong does.

Smith was one of three former Louisville Cardinals drafted in the first round Thursday, joining safety Calvin Pryor (No. 18, New York Jets) and being joined later by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32, Minnesota Vikings).

The way these players were developed should give Texas fans hope as Strong transitions into their program's head coaching position—especially considering the staff Strong brought with him from UL.

Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

Bridgewater was a much sought-after prospect—the type of player Texas routinely lands—but players like that don't always pan out properly. At quarterback, it seems, this is even more likely than any other position. Nuanced coaching is the key to realizing potential.

And nuanced coaching is what Bridgewater got. Strong and new Texas quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson guided Bridgewater where he needed to go, and Bridgewater clearly appreciated it:

How does this matter to Texas?

Simple. The Longhorns have a pair of talented dual-threat quarterbacks on the roster in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard. Especially in the case of Swoopes, who has not impressed to date since arriving last season, the proper development is needed.

But the talent—the raw, pliable talent—appears to be there en masse:

Texas Quarterback Recruiting Numbers
Composite ScoreOverall RankPosition Rank*
Jerrod Heard (2014).9653722
Tyrone Swoopes (2013).91881938
Teddy Bridgewater (2011).94901015
Source: 247Sports Composite

*Note: Swoopes was listed as an "athlete," while Bridgewater and Heard were listed as dual-threat quarterbacks.

What Strong did with Pryor was even more impressive.

Texas has fancied itself  "Defensive Back U" for the better part of the past decade, and there is no denying its claim to that title. Since the 2006 NFL draft, it has had 10 defensive backs drafted, including seven in the top 50 picks and five in the first round.

And even though we don't have the recruiting data on all of them—Rivals.com was used in this case but only stretches back to 2002—the bits we do have say Pryor was a bigger project than all of them.

Texas Top-50 Drafted DBs as Recruits (since 2006 Draft)
Star RatingPosition RankingOverall Draft Pick
Kenny Vaccaro4-Star1815
Aaron Willaims4-Star134
Earl Thomas4-Star1214
Michael Griffin4-Star919
Aaron Ross4-Starn/a20
Michael Huffn/an/an/a
Cedric Griffinn/an/an/a
Calvin Pryor3-Star3118
Source: Rivals.com

Like Smith, Pryor played quarterback in high school before moving full time to defense when he got to Louisville. Strong was able to get the best out of him and teach him the proper way to play.


Because Strong knows how to connect with his players. Not that Mack Brown didn't—who at UT ever disliked playing for Coach Mack?—but Strong does it in a personal, almost poetical way.

"I was Pryor," Strong said during the middle of last season, according to Steve Jones of The Courier-Journal (subscription required). "That's why I call him 'Linebacker' because I like his game. Pryor is an exciting player. I really like to watch him play."

We all do, Charlie.

And thanks in part to you, we all now get to do it on Sundays.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT